13.3: Lessons Learned

Strength + technique + practice = success.

Things went badly for me in 12.4 last year.

The week before the workout, I completely lost the ability to skip.

That isn’t entirely true. I just didn’t practice skipping for five months because I was too busy doing cleans and snatches. When 12.4 was announced, I started to panic. I tried adjusting the rope to various lengths, wearing different shoes, and smashing and throwing ropes like an entitled and cranky child, but nothing worked. At one point, I got mad and stomped the handle of a rope in a foolish attempt to break it. Instead, I actually thought I broke my foot.

When the workout started, I realized I was bad at wall-ball, too. All that heavy Olympic lifting didn’t help my conditioning at all, and I hadn’t practiced wall-balls in months. I missed a lot of reps, and my plan to never do less than 10 reps went out the window. As my conditioning utterly failed, I was down to threes and fours.

When I finally finished Karen, I had to fight with the rope, and it did not go well. I missed a lot of singles, and then with only 8 reps to go, I started failing over and over and over. Crystal was yelling at me and the clock was ticking down, and when I finally got to the rings I had earned only 30 seconds on them.

The best part of the tale is that I’m pretty decent at muscle-ups. But my skill on the rings was totally negated by glaring deficiencies elsewhere. Event 12.4 really bothered me for a while, not because it was a bad workout but because I totally wasn’t ready for it. I had ignored skipping and wall-ball, and I got burned, but I learned a valuable lesson during those 12 minutes of failure.

How deep? That deep.

Shortly after that beatdown, I invented The Humbler: 3 rounds of 30 wall-balls and 30 double-unders. I did it about five or six times over the next year, and every time I did it, I thought about 12.4 and all those missed reps. The Humbler was always humbling–at first it took me almost 10 minutes–but eventually I started to get a little better at both movements.

Event 12.4 became 13.3, and a lot of us were met with a great deal of frustration when skill movements showed up. Something as simple as a wall-ball shot suddenly became near impossible by rep 90, and all those no-reps were unbelievably deflating. How can it be so hard to accurately throw a fluffy ball above a god-damn line?

For those of us who made it to the rope, it was often a losing battle that left us covered with whip marks while the rings dangled untouched off in the distance. And muscle-ups require both strength and skill and draw a clear line in the Open athletes like the coffee dude who sweeps most of the beans off the table to leave only the finest.

If you were humbled by 13.3—and many of us were—don’t feel beaten and frustrated. Feel challenged and inspired.

If you had wall-ball reps taken away, realize that the judges at regionals are similarly ruthless, and even our top athletes have had multiple reps killed in Vancouver. Ask our regional competitors about head judge Brad McKee, a stern but fair movement critic. Better to be no-repped in the gym than on the floor of the Richmond Oval with Angie Pye or Lucas Parker beside you. No-reps are part of the game, and any that were stripped should inspire you to move better in the coming months. If you have goals of competing at regionals, exaggerate the standards for all movements and never, ever count a rep you think might be questionable.

If you realized that chucking a 20-lb. ball to 10 feet is tougher than expected, pick up that 20-pounder in every class with wall-balls, squat deep and don’t count the shots below the line.

If you struggled with the skipping rope, put double-unders in your skill work in every session for five minutes. Everyone who has done this has improved dramatically. Everyone. Ditch the max-snatch attempt and the run at Fran and just skip for a while. Drill for skill.

If the rings were your weakness, it’s time to stop trying random kipping attempts and start doing the progressions and skill work your coaches advise: strict pull-ups, ring rows and dips to build strength; false-grip pull-ups to work the grip; and assisted transitions with the rings down low. Don’t skip these steps. Check your ego now or the rings will beat you again next year. Last year, Jenn, Lindsey and Crystal all followed these steps to the letter, and all put up great scores this year. You can choose to skip the skill work and kip away—but you should know that the girls didn’t.

I dreaded doing 13.3 again, but ultimately I love the workout. To be clear, I actually hate wall-balls and skipping, but I love 12.4/13.3 because it taught me one of the most valuable lessons I learned in the last year of CrossFit: no one is above skill work.

Special congrats go to Erin for getting her first muscle-up minutes before getting another during her run at 13.3. She did it strict and with a false grip, and it was a great moment. Special thanks go to Aaron for always being cheerful when fighting through his injury. Watching him do 13.3 with one good leg helped me through the dark parts of Karen, and I owe at least 10 reps to him.

See you on the rubber for 13.4!

Comments
6 Responses to “13.3: Lessons Learned”
  1. Keith says:

    well said Mike. It takes courage to admit one’s weaknesses, but you’re never afraid to offer them up to teach, and to help the rest of us become better in the process. My greatest weaknesses is likely the double under, and more than anything I should make improving that skill a priority, which I will do

  2. Natasha says:

    Always a pleasure to read you words MIke!
    “check your ego now.” – Love it

  3. Kevin Fox says:

    Great words of wisdom! So true!

  4. Kelsey says:

    Hi Mike,

    Thanks for sharing your story, its nice to hear that many people struggled with that workout. T be truthful it destroyed me last year, I mentally let the extra foot i had to throw get to me (being 5’1 it makes a difference).

    If i thought wall balls were hard before, it was nothing compared to getting them back after having emergency surgery to my abdomen in September. I have hammered wall balls and double under using them as warm ups 2-3 times per week. At least once a month i did my own version of “the Humbler” – 8 rounds of 25 wall balls, 50 Double unders. But It paid off after trying 12.4 5 times over the past year I never made it past 30 double unders, but this year I was able to get 2 muscle ups. You are so right in saying “check your ego now” I now embrace my weakness, spend lots of time with them, so that next year I can say I will be better…..not just stronger.

  5. sie says:

    totally feel u when saying lost the ability to skip. There’s even a time when I cant even do a single not more double..After that lesson, i start to engage at least few minutes a day to practice my DU. Thanks for ur tips and sharing ur story..